Scripture: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; Matthew 5:1-12
Guest Preacher: Rev. Jessica Star Rockers
February 2, 2020
What am I to do?
I ask myself this a lot these days. In large and small ways. When I am at a restaurant, trying to order a meal that is a sustainable choice for our planet. What am I to do? When I am home, patiently washing plastic and checking the number on the package, to see if it recycles, what am I to do? When I am watching the news and I see suffering and injustice, what am I to do?
Sometimes I can’t remember what I’m to do. The rules change on what recycles, what composts, what is sustainable. And those larger concerns, of global and national suffering, those rules change, too. Should I go to the disaster, to help? Or will I be in the way? Should I send money, or will it be used to pay a wealthy CEO? Recently I saw an article about making knitted pouches for marsupial babies who are suffering in the Australian wildfires and then before I could even put together my supplies I saw an article that said, stop sending knitted pouches to Australia. What am I to do?
I will confess at times like this I want to just crawl into my favorite chair with my puppies on either side of me and watch British Bake Off until I fall asleep, dreaming of cake. Sorry to be so specific.
That’s not really the best response though, is it? I mean, it’s a response. Sometimes it’s necessary. We all need a little cake, or dreams of cake, as it were. But it’s not the ultimate response. It’s the resting place. We can take a moment to be paralyzed by the contradictions of how best to respond to our suffering world, but then we need to get on with answering the question.
What are we to do?
In our scripture today, in Micah, we get a summons, in response to this question. We’ve been called into the courtroom of a controversy. The Lord’s case against Israel. (And I can’t help but think about what is happening in our Senate right now, when I think of courtrooms and controversies. Another moment that begs the question, what are we to do?)
Micah offers all sorts of facetious ideas, from the mundane to the ridiculous. Everything from burnt offerings to ten thousand rivers of olive oil to sacrificing our firstborn child. What outrageous act can we perform that will fix this? There’s got to be something. We know it’s ridiculous but we are desperate. We want a clear imperative. God, what would you have us do? What do you require? The answer is deceptively simple. Act justly, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
This is both a subtle and a monumental shift. And suddenly it isn’t about what we are to do, what is the right action, which is the right way to recycle or the right way to eat or the right way to donate to relief organizations. It is about who we are willing to be. Maybe we could try asking that question instead.
Who are we to be?
Who are we to be? It is a challenge to even know what it means to act justly or walk humbly. Because this is about more than empty gestures, trying to please, trying to “get it right”. Forget your perfect offering, Leonard Cohen sings. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. We are practicing what it means to be a people of God. Practice implies imperfection. It implies room for improvement. It implies trying and trying and trying again.
I am reminded of the movie Groundhog Day. Which is really appropriate because today IS Groundhog Day. The legend goes that when the groundhog emerges from his burrow on Feb. 2nd, if he sees his shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of winter. This implies that if today is a sunny day, winter continues but if it is a cloudy day, winter will end. I don’t know, friends. But the movie is hilarious. Through some magical or spiritual blip in space time, a man named Phil –played by Bill Murray – is forced to live the same day over and over again. Throughout the film he tries and fails and tries again to move on. Sometimes he gives up and eats cake all day, which as I said earlier is compelling when paralyzed with the feeling of total helplessness. But eventually he begins to do good. He begins to answer that question, what am I to do? And each day he does better. His actions get more and more perfect. Until finally he is spending day after day saving lives and being generous and generally making the world a better place. But even that doesn’t stop the day from repeating. Even when he has done every perfect thing, he is still caught in the time loop, forced to wake up the next day and try again.
Since this movie came out in 1993, I’m ok with ruining the ending for you. You’ve had a lot of opportunities to see it. In the end, what changes things, what finally gets his world to shift, a new day to finally dawn… is when who Phil is changes. Fundamentally. It isn’t the perfect actions that save him. It is who he becomes through the process of trying, in the face of repeated failure. He keeps trying. And eventually he becomes someone who acts justly, loves kindness, and walks humbly. Not because he thinks it will save him. But because he has figured out it is not about doing, it is about being.
We need to remember this. Because if we don’t, and we read Psalm 15, we might get confused. It seems to be saying very clearly what is and isn’t right. Who does and doesn’t get to enter the Kingdom. But we have to remember that it isn’t about whether we can do these actions perfectly. And follow the rules. Psalm 15 is telling us where all of this is located. Where will we encounter the holy? When we speak the truth from our heart, we encounter the holy. When we resist evil and slander, we encounter the holy. When we stand by our good word, we encounter the holy. It’s not a location, this holy hill. The tent of the Lord isn’t an actual tent. It is that state of the mind and heart, that we practice. In the hopes of waking up to a new day.
So, who are we to be?
Well I can tell you what our dominant culture here in the U.S tells us we can’t be. We can’t be poor. We can’t be old. We can’t be fat. We can’t be an immigrant or indigenous. We can’t be black. We can’t be trans. We can’t be disabled. We can’t be sick. And we can’t depend on anyone but ourselves.
In the Beatitudes, in Matthew, we see Jesus’ first public sermon. And his message, right out of the gate, is to challenge the social order. He says to the crowd of people gathered there that the holy, where to find God, is in all those places and people we have been taught to reject. All those attributes inside of ourselves that we have deemed as less then. All those people in our society who are persecuted and marginalized. They are blessed. They are blessed by God. And those places inside of ourselves of which society says we should be ashamed, those are the places from which we are called to live. The Kingdom of God is all about what’s on the inside.
Forget your perfect offering, Leonard Cohen sings. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. While I would say, that’s also how the light gets out.
Those parts of ourselves we have rejected. Decided are not good enough. Not worthy. We keep them hidden for fear of being found out. Shameful, embarrassing secrets. You know what God is saying, right? Those are the holiest parts of ourselves. And if we want to see God, if we want to experience the holy, we need to allow our spiritual life to come from that place. No offense to Leonard Cohen, but Rumi said it first, the wound is the place the light enters you. It’s your greatest spiritual gift.
Who are we to be?
We are to be a people brave enough to confront the social order, the ways it has colonized and marginalized, not just the world but ourselves as well. We are to be a people brave enough to claim our deepest wounds and therefore our deepest spiritual gifts. We are to be a people who do this spiritual work justly, mercifully and humbly. And we start with confronting that social order. We start with our own prejudices and biases. We start with the ways the world has colonized our minds and hearts. It’s an inside job. And once we figure out who we are to be, when we go to that place and see our wounds from Jesus’ perspective, then we will know what to do. We will know what gift we can bring.
Until then it is just Groundhog Day. Over and over again. I don’t know if we ever get past Groundhog Day. I haven’t. Jesus did, but he was a special case. The rest of us have to be content with waking up every morning and trying again. But in that commitment, in that journey, in that pursuit, we are blessed. Imperfect and broken we are blessed. Marginalized and ostracized, we are blessed. We will be comforted, we will know the holy, we will be blessed.
And from that blessing we receive we are called to be a blessing. We are called to enter that courtroom of controversy and know what is true. Justice and kindness and humility. This is what is true. This is who we are to be. In a world that says it’s not enough. In a world that criticizes and condemns. We are asked to be vulnerable, to forget our perfect offering and let the light in. And then, to let the light out, and let it shine.
Remember: you are blessed and you are a blessing.